LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Coming into the spring season, Covenant women's tennis head coach John Hirte was looking for his team to continue to climb the ladder in the USA South with major pieces of the 2015 team returning.
Hirte's team responded by putting together the winningest season, in terms of percentage and conference victories, in program history.
With solid play up and down the lineup, Covenant finished the year 15-6 overall with an 11-1 mark in the USA South. The Lady Scots placed second in the USA South regular season and would advance past N.C. Wesleyan in the USA South Tournament semifinals. Covenant won its last 10 regular season conference matches, the longest such streak in program history. The winning percentage of .714 sets a program record and the 15 wins are the second-most.
Additionally, the Lady Scots found themselves in the region polls for the first time. Covenant was ranked in each of the last three ITA region polls, going as high as 16th on April 14, and finished the year ranked 14th in the NCAA region rankings. The final ITA region poll will be announced on June 2.
"I'm extremely proud of how are team played all season, and how they carried and conducted themselves all season long," Hirte said.
In order to get to the point of being ranked regionally, Covenant had hurdles to overcome. The Lady Scots had never beaten perennial region power Berry or conference power Meredith coming into the year. But that changed in 2016 and Covenant was able to ride that momentum to a historic season.
Facing a regionally-ranked Berry team on March 16 in Rome, Ga., Covenant rallied from a deficit in singles play to knot the score at 4-4. The match came down to the No. 1 singles match between Covenant's Aly Hall and Berry's Mary Cerny. Hall dropped the first set, but battled back to win a thriller in three sets 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 for a critical non-conference win.
10 days later, Covenant needed another comeback to score a big conference victory. Against Meredith on March 26 in Raleigh, N.C., the Lady Scots trailed 2-1 after the doubles portion but rallied to tie at 4-4. This time it was No. 3 singles and Claire Luger who worked back after dropping the first set to come out with a 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 victory giving Covenant sole possession of second in the USA South.
Those two victories highlighted a stretch where Covenant won 11 of 13 matches and vaulted into the region rankings for the first time in program history.
From all six spots in singles and three places in doubles, Covenant received contributions from everywhere in the lineup throughout the year. Six different players recorded at least eight singles wins on the year.
The team was led by Hall. The sophomore transfer earned first team All-USA South honors after going 12-2 on the year at the No. 1 singles spot and was later named USA South Tournament MVP. Sophomore Annie DeLuca won eight singles matches and went 6-3 against the USA South and was named to the All-USA South honorable mention team while Luger, a junior, also picked up All-USA South honorable mention with a 6-2 conference record and 8-7 overall.
The bottom half of the lineup in singles was anchored by junior Gracie Smith, who went 11-4 on the year. Smith broke the program's career record for singles wins during the year and enters her senior year with a 37-17 record in dual singles matches.
Freshman Danielle Morin was impressive in her rookie year going 12-8 in singles play, including a 10-2 mark in the USA South. Senior Lindsay Geving was Covenant's representative on the USA South All-Sportsmanship team and capped her career by going 9-7 overall, with a 7-2 mark against conference foes.
In doubles, Luger and Smith were dominating at the No. 2 spot going 13-5 overall on the year, including 9-1 against the USA South. DeLuca and Hall formed the No. 1 duo and went 8-3 in doubles in the USA South, while Geving and Spielman were 6-4 overall at No. 3.
"Everyone embraced their roles and contributed to our team success, and it was really rewarding to see each player achieve a personal milestone or a crucial win that helped our team achieve the best record in school history," Hirte said. "I'm grateful that we have players who valued team success beyond their own."
To top it all, Hirte collected USA South Coach of the Year honors after guiding the team. It was the second consecutive year that Hirte has garnered a coach of the year honor after earning the award on the men's side in 2015. Since 2014, Covenant's first year in the USA South, the Lady Scots are 30-6 against conference members and 43-21 overall.
USA South All-Conference
Aly Hall - 1st team
Annie DeLuca - honorable mention
Claire Luger - honorable mention
USA South Coach of the Year
USA South All-Sportsmanship
USA South All-Tournament
Aly Hall - MVP
USA South Player of the Week
Aly Hall - Feb. 22
Annie DeLuca - March 14
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